Shmuel Sackett
Shmuel SackettCourtesy

On my recent trip to the USA, I spoke in several locations and noticed that the age of the crowd was older than usual. Yes, I am also “older than usual” but something seemed different. Over the years, I have spoken in over 500 Jewish communities in America and Canada and am used to seeing Jews of all ages… but this time, there was not one person under 40 in any of my presentations. Baruch Hashem, in my personal goal of making it to 120, I recently entered the second half of life (do the math…) so I thought that maybe it had to do with me. Am I no longer able to attract the younger crowd? Are only older people interested in hearing about Israel and the Jewish nation?

I spoke about this to a dear friend of mine and he explained what was going on.

He calmed me down, with a full assurance, that it had nothing to do with me. The 20 and 30-year-olds in the Jewish world today, he said, are interested in 4 things and 4 things only. Food, wine, cars and Netflix.

“One second’, I asked. “I am also interested in those things. I enjoy food and nice Israeli wine, recently purchased a new car (after 14 years and 270,000 miles) and am a fan of The Blacklist (who’s not!) so what’s different?”

He then opened my eyes to what he says is really going on in today’s frum world.

Food is no longer just about eating. A new trend has begun which has infiltrated our world and it’s called “Foodies”. People – especially those under 40 – have decided that food is now an art. In my day it was just about the taste but today it’s about the look, the feel, the smell, the texture, the design and the presentation. People spend enormous amounts of time talking about food, reading about it online and watching influencers ramble endlessly about everything related to food.

There are videos explaining the difference between cheese platters and charcuterie boards (are you impressed that I even know what that is???) and people love spending time talking about the $175 short-rib burger in a Manhattan restaurant that is wrapped in 24-karat gold leaves and topped with black Australian truffle. Wait, I forgot to mention that it is brought to the table in a custom hand-carved wood treasure chest with an accompanying smoke show. Really??

Wine is another discussion that can last for hours. Instead of simply enjoying some fine wine on Shabbat, today’s 20 and 30-year-olds join wine clubs, run to wine-tasting festivals and talk about wine like it’s the most important commodity on the planet. As stated above, I enjoy Israeli wines and love trying different ones – especially from one of the 50 boutique wineries in Yehuda and Shomron - but I don’t talk about it for hours… I drink it on Shabbat!

Cars are another thing. We all need cars to get around but this new trend of comparing one car to another and having marathon discussions on electric vs hybrid vs gas is something that makes my head spin. People literally spend hours focused on this issue with nothing concrete being decided… only to continue the useless conversation the next time the guys meet while eating vegan, plant-based Chorizo.

And finally, there’s Netflix. If you watch it to relax here and there, then it’s fine. Who doesn’t love Raymond Reddington and the brilliant way he spins the FBI – and the entire world – on his little finger? But today’s under-40-year-olds are wasting far more time than just enjoying James Spader at his best. They are addicted to the computer screen and instead of setting fixed times for Torah study, too many have fixed times for Netflix watching.

What happened to the generation of American Jewry that is expected to lead in the next 50 years? Where’s their vision for the future? Where’s their ideology? What are their goals – not personal, but national?? How do they see their role in leading the Jewish people? Do they plan on simply serving us a strawberry spinach salad with matsutake mushrooms (Bodek, of course…) while pouring a blend of Pinot Noir and Grenache wine with a hint of Shiraz? Or will they just drive their Tesla Model “S” to the season premiere of “Suits – Season 10”?

I realize that I am writing this in an amusing way…generalizing and exaggerating to some extent, but there’s really nothing funny about it. This group – the 20 and 30 year olds of American Jewry – are the future of Jewish life in that part of the world and, sadly, they lack the tools necessary to lead.

I urge anyone and everyone who knows people in that age group to teach them what is really important. Give them direction, purpose and a vision for the future. Explain the concept of the Jewish nation as opposed to just the Jewish individual. Teach them about using every minute of life wisely and that there are things more important than a $125 gold hamburger. Explain the role that Eretz Yisrael plays in the life of a Jew and that it’s a lot more than just the year they spent in Yeshiva or Seminary.

This group is our future, and we need them to get MAD; to Make A Difference! Let’s start working on that now!